RR# 26, continued: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 2

This is part two of my Ragnar Washington DC race report – if you haven’t read part one, you should click on this right now to head over there and read that first.

When we left off, we were pulling into Exchange #12 for our first break of the event.  The exchange was at a high school, and I have never seen so many white vans in one place in my life.  People everywhere.  The school had a spaghetti dinner they were selling as a fundraiser, and access to showers, as well, so there were some nice amenities.  There was also a big shady area back behind their tennis courts where everybody was taking sleeping bags to go lie down … a sea of runners, in repose. Read more

RR #26: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 1

OK – it is time.

Let’s talk about Ragnar.

So … last Thanksgiving I ran a 10k (still stands as my 10k PR, ahem) with my sister-in-law and very good friends who’s house we were crashing in the DC area.  Great morning, great race, really had a good time.  During the drive, somebody mentioned a Ragnar, and it turned out that none of the runners in the van had ever run a Ragnar … except me.  A sister had, but other than that no direct experience.  And everybody just casually said what a great idea it would be to do one of those things one day, and wouldn’t that be fun?

Yeah – I tend to be the type that actively tries to move things from talking to doing.  Especially at that time, I was reading a book that really had me thinking hard about the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my time and energy.  So the week after Thanksgiving, after stewing on the idea for a few days, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen if somebody didn’t take the ball and run with it … so I sent an email out and volunteered to be captain.  By the second week of December, we were signed up for Ragnar Washington DC, to be run in late September, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, DC. Read more

Coins Damage Fountain

I’ve been looking for a jumping off point for this post, and today’s Daily Prompt provided just that starting line.

As I’ve now said multiple times, I was in Washington DC last week, and was reminded every day why DC is one of my favorite cities.  There are the obvious things, of course – the monuments, the buildings, the museums.  And then there are the more subtle things – the energy, which is rivaled only by New York City for me; the men and women in suits that look like they’re on a mission to save the world; the guys in black that are patrolling the roof of the White House and that you can see if you look really closely.

I share my birthday with Abraham Lincoln (Charles Darwin, too, though that doesn’t get us anywhere in this post).  Since I was small I have had a fascination with Mr. Lincoln, almost an obsession.  One of the manifestations of that interest involves visiting the Lincoln Memorial any time I am in DC, and preferably at night.  The walk this time took me through the WWII Memorial;

Three states I happen to be very familiar with...
Three states I happen to be very familiar with…

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (which really is stunning at night);

No picture can do this scene justice
No picture can do this scene justice, particularly a crappy iPhone shot…

And then finally to see Mr. Lincoln:

The juxtaposition of how big he is up close to how big he is compared to the temple is ... striking
The juxtaposition of how big he is up close to how big he is compared to the temple is … striking

My time spent at the Memorial always leaves me feeling both invigorated and melancholic, if that is even possible.  I am inspired by his life and his work ethic, and being there makes me feel that I am a part of something much larger than myself, something grand and glorious.  But I get melancholic both at the sense that my life is passing and with each day it becomes less likely I’ll ever change the world, and also in that way melancholia always creeps up when you’re in a temple to remember the dead.

This trip, though, introduced a new introspection and thought process centered on the idea that Mr. Lincoln would disapprove of us today.  That he’d look at all of the fighting and bickering and gridlock and lack of progress and he’d get his hackles up and tell us all, in that high nasal voice of his, to knock it off.  Knock it the hell off.

What does this have to do with the Daily Post prompt about coins in a fountain?  I did not take the below picture, which is almost certainly from the FDR Memorial (which I visited but didn’t photograph), but I saw these signs everywhere, as well as the clear evidence that they were being ignored:

Coins Damage Fountain
Coins Damage Fountain

This illustrates my point better than I ever could with words.  This thing we have – the United States of America – is a precious thing, and a startlingly young thing in the grand scheme, and no guarantee exists that what we have must endure for ages. Instead what we have is an experiment that will only ever be as good and as successful as we make it, each of us.  Sure there are big decisions every day that we don’t understand – things like the budget, and health care, and military involvement around the world – and that we can’t influence.

But there are millions of small choices made every single day, the sum of which decides whether we have, for example, a clean and poignant fountain or a broken puddle full of loose change.  I want to live in a country that has the former, and the only way I know to do that is to learn, and care, and teach.  I’ll be bringing my sons to these places, and I’ll be teaching them that these are THEIR places, and that those places deserve our respect. That’s the least we can do to pitch in and make this whole thing work.

To make it a place I’d be proud to show Abraham Lincoln around.

Also, keep your pennies in your damn pockets.

RR#13 – Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon

So … I was a bit nervous about this race.

My original registration for Rock ‘n’ Roll USA was for the full marathon – it was to be my first.  And then I learned why people that live as far north as I do don’t often register for early spring marathons.  As I got further and further behind in my training, I realized that I was not going to make it … and so I switched over to the half and took a deep breath.  And my training was not really great even then – just too many distractions excuses and such.  And I even entertained the thought of backing out altogether.

And then I realized that was crazy talk.  Even if I had to walk it, I could do it – and even with relatively poor training I’m in better shape than I was last September when I did the half in 90 degree heat.   So I committed to making it happen, and I am so glad I did.  This was an awesome race.

Got to the expo on Friday afternoon and was confronted with a line out the door.  That wasn’t the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks, though – because the expo was in the DC Armory we were being screened by security.  That went quickly enough, and then I had no wait at all to pick up my number and get to the shopping.   My wife and 2-year old were with me on this one, so that got interesting – and a great big THANK YOU to the folks at the Williamsburg Marathon booth that gave him the Chik-Fil-A stuffed cow.  Anything to distract him at that point.

We were staying at my brother-in-law’s house in Alexandria, which is on the metro.  My morning nutrition was not optimal:  granola bars at their house and a banana at the race.  Not enough, but that turned out OK.  WMATA opened up the metro two hours early, and getting to the start could not have been easier.  It was so easy that I’d left myself entirely too much time and wound up needing to kill an hour.

Starting Line - I'm way back in Corral 27
Starting Line – I’m way back in Corral 27

This was easily the biggest race I’ve ever been a part of – I was in corral 27 and there were an awful lot of people behind me.  If you’ve ever done a Rock ‘n’ Roll race you know there is a ton of energy at the start line, which is nice … because it took 45 minutes for me to get to the start line.  And we were off.

The course itself was absolutely great, and we got nearly perfect weather.  We started on Constitution Avenue – my corral was directly in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – and headed down the mall.  In the first mile we ran past the Washington Monument and the White House headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Mile 2 was an out-and-back on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with a gorgeous view of the cemetery.  Miles 3-6 were up the Potomac Parkway, so relatively quiet but very pretty.

Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6
Somewhere between mile 4 & mile 6

 

Mile 7 had The Hill, which, um, sucked.  Once we topped out on the hill we ran near the National Zoo and then were in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.  From there on, the course was distinctly urban with GREAT crowd support.  That area is full of row houses and people were out on their stoops and porches and lining the streets cheering and holding signs.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll folks always have bands along the course … roughly one per mile.  I bring that up here because the absolute best was the Batala Drummers All-Women Percussion Band.  They were set up at the bottom of a big hill just as we turned to run through Howard University.   Hard to describe how very cool this was…

 

Another very interesting thing happened at roughly mile 9, just before we turned south on North Capitol Street and had that gorgeous view of the US Capitol.  I’ve been in races where somebody random sets up a table with “Free Beer!” or “Mixed Drinks!”  These are awesome, but not for me.  And so I almost ran by one of these tables until I realized the sign continued.  “Free Beer” was followed by “Free Brisket!”  And, yeah, I couldn’t not check that out.  And while a big ol’ slice of brisket is non-traditional mid-race fuel … it was incredible.

Incredible.

After we turned off of Capitol Street we wound through different neighborhoods for the last 4 miles or so for a finish at RFK Stadium.  The marathoners and half-marathoners split up just before mile 13, and the thought at that time of taking for another 13 miles made me cringe.  That’s going to happen, but not soon.

My family missed my finish by about 10 minutes, which legitimately sucked, but I was very very happy with my race.  My pacing was remarkably consistent – the fastest mile was mile 4 at 11.15 (because that’s always my best mile) and my slowest was mile 7 at 12.37 (because hill – 271 feet of elevation gain in that mile).  My overall time was 2:36.0, for a total pace of 11.54 / mile.  That takes nearly 19 (19!) minutes off of my previous half marathon time.  I also set PRs with my official 10K (1:13.04, nearly a 2 minute PR) and 10 mile (1:58.34) splits.

Here’s where I think I am – this is the race I had expected hoped to run in Virginia Beach last summer.  The conditions forced a much different race, though.  But I’ve been able to maintain that level of fitness through this winter even though I don’t feel great about my training.  The huge PR is a great validation of where I’ve gotten to – and I am feeling very motivated to blow right past here.  I’ve got another half scheduled for late spring, and I hope to blow that one away.

In the meantime – I LOVED this race.  The Rock ‘n’ Roll people did a great job with everything as far as I could tell.  And the overall vibe from the competitors, spectators, and city was just some of the most fun I’ve had running.   Thanks for everybody that worked on it and came out to cheer – you made it an awesome experience!

Approaching the finish line...
Approaching the finish line…

Notes:

–  Apparently the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks had some troubles at this race last year, especially with port-a-potties and the gear check.  They made a lot of noise about listening to the complaints and changing things, and by all accounts they got it right.  While there were lines at the port-a-potties throughout the race, the start and finish seemed to be fine.  And I didn’t check a gear bag because my family was coming, but the feedback is that they fixed that, too.  Kudos to the organizers for making it happen.

–  Speaking of port-a-potties, I had to make a pit stop just past mile 9 and lets just say that glad I’m a guy and move on.

–  I struggled with my fuel belt, strictly due to lack of practice.  I started the race with it on my back, but the way it bounced and pushed on my shorts was not comfortable.  So I turned it around like you see in the pictures up there … which blocked the pockets I usually keep my iPod in in that pullover.  So I wound up carrying the iPod in my hand for most of the race. The two times I tried to put it in the pocket interfered with the water bottle in the belt and made it fall out.  So … in the hand it was.  That’s what I get for using something I hadn’t used in 6 weeks.

–  Favorite signs:

  • Series:  “Harder Faster Stronger Better” followed by “That’s What She Said”
  • “Where Are All You Guys Going?”
  • “Its Not a Hill, Its a Beastmaker”
  • “Free High Fives” followed by two little kids, probably 6ish and 4ish

–  For whatever reason the nutrition didn’t hurt me.  I started fueling with gel relatively early and I think that helped.

–  It turns out that I’ve become a bit of a snob about walkers.  Not that I mind the walking, mind you – I do some of that myself.  But, for the love of Joe Pesci, when you are going to stop and walk move over to the side of the crowd.  Especially in the first mile or two when there is still a lot of congestion.

–  At around mile 25 for them the full marathoners came around the back of the parking lot where the finish line festival was.  My son and I walked over to cheer them on for a bit.  I’ve just got a ton of respect for those folks … they’d been running for 4 hours or so and just looked beaten down.  I can only imagine how they felt when they finished.  I want to feel that some day.

–  Not really any SWAG at this one, which is interesting.  The shirt is a Brooks technical that I like but caused some bitching because it is black.  People will complain about anything, I guess.  We got that and our gear bag and a couple of random little medical things (basically icy hot) … but that’s OK.  I did pick up my pint glass and 13.1 sticker, and then we did a little damage at the expo.  I intended to get my medal engraved like I did at Virginia Beach, but the wait was too long.  That does not take away from the medal, though, which is pretty awesome.

–  That was March’s race, which means I’ve now run in a race or an event in 13 consecutive months.  I am registered for a 5K in April, another half marathon in May, and a 5-miler (automatic PR!) in June.  Targeting an 8-miler (another automatic PR!) in July and a 10K in August.  And then Ragnar Tennessee in October.  So when I get September figured out that gets me to 20 months.  Who’d have thunk it?

–  Next Race:  JFK Runway Run, Queens, New York City, NY … April 6th

Another medal on the wall...
Another medal on the wall…